Saturday, September 6, 2008

For Antonio Tarver, Life Imitates Art

Sly Stallone and Tarver, pictured at the premiere of the movie 'Rocky Balboa' in which Tarver played the fictional heavyweight champion of the world.

For Antonio Tarver the boxing world is a fickle place.

His character, Mason 'The Line' Dixon, in the movie 'Rocky Balboa' was also a man who claimed he couldn't get no respect. In real life for 'The Magic Man' no matter how many times he has performed his abracadabra act over the years, he still feels like he hasn't pulled a rabbit out of the hat - at least as far as public opinion is concerned.

But Tarver, the IBF Light Heavyweight titlist, isn't dwelling on his plight. For the better part of the past decade he has worn some sort of alphabet soup title belt, has earned millions of dollars in purses, has appeared on the silver screen opposite Sylvester Stallone and has knocked out Roy Jones, Jr. - with one punch.

The 39 year-old Tarver has been around this shady game of professional boxing long enough to know that nothing comes without a fight and that anything goes. But he still shook his head in disbelief when he heard that Chad Dawson, the opponent he will meet on October 11th at The Palms in Las Vegas, was the early betting favorite to take his title.

"That's the way it is," said a disgusted Tarver. "You can't control things that are out of you're control. I mean, it's slap in my face being the champion I've been for so many years. It's disrespectful and Chad's gotta' pay...Chad's gotta' pay. I'm gonna' take all of that out on his ass on October 11th."

Dawson, of course, is the undefeated, 26 year-old, former WBC 175-pound titlist and a southpaw like Tarver. Through 27 pro fights, except for a few minor blips, Dawson has been nearly flawless and those that set the odds figure his time has come and that youth will prevail. Tarver, however, sees things differently and thinks those that tipped 'Bad' Chad as the favorite are doing the young fighter more harm than good.

"I mean, he was already in trouble," says the confident Tarver who has a swagger that would make John Wayne proud. "Now they gonna' dash some gasoline on his ass, you know what I mean? I'm fired up man. I'm goin' back home, can't wait to get back home, get back in the lab man, get some great sparrin' partners in there. I mean we been runnin' through sparrin' partners like crazy, man. They just not lasting."

Dawson (left) and Tarver pose for the cameras and show off their hard won hardware.

The fight between Tarver and Dawson has been a long time in the making and the pair have been on a collision course for the past year and half. They appeared on the same card together in June 2007 in Dawson's home state of Connecticut and when Tarver fought Danny Santiago in December it was also a fight that took place in Connecticut. In April of this year both fought on the same card in Tarver's home state of Florida.

After Tarver knocked out Danny Santiago in four one-sided rounds this past December an interested observer in the crowd and at the post-fight press conference was, of course, Chad Dawson.

I stood next to Dawson at the press conference and he was attired in an over-sized, maroon, fur vest and some sort of camouflage jumpsuit. The outfit was reminiscent of something not seen since the Joe Frazier and George Foreman wardrobes of the early 1970’s and it was certainly attention grabbing all on its own. Dawson never challenged Tarver verbally, or otherwise, but his presence loomed over the proceedings and clouded Tarver’s spotlight just a little bit. It reminded me of the scene in Rocky III when Clubber Lang (played by Mr. T) gate crashed Rocky's world.

Tarver, who is as glib as they come and can be as damaging with his mouth as he is with his fists, has shown surprising respect to the young Dawson and hasn't tried to verbally dress him down or intimidate him when they have appeared in public.

"I like what Chad brings to the game," explains Tarver who is married to a beautiful woman named Denise and is the father of a little girl named Taylor. "It motivates me, it gets me up. It's another opportunity for me to display what sets me apart from the rest of these fighters."

Against Clinton Woods, Tarver was a brilliant performer who put on a great performance. He never missed a step.

Tarver, who will turn 40 a month after he faces Dawson, knows that at his age, every fight could be his last. In his most recent bout he won the IBF title from Clinton Woods and he was in exquisite physical condition. Tarver was as good as he had been in a long time. To say that all cylinders were firing would be an understatement as he pitched a virtual shutout on the judges scorecards and he put on a boxing clinic that totally befuddled Woods.

"This is my last stretch run, I wanna' go out on top," says Tarver who knows he is operating in the twilight of his boxing career. "I don't ever want anybody to have to deny my greatness. I listened to the odds and I'm still baffled. No matter what I do, I've been the best in this game for a long, long time. All I've done is be successful and I still can't get no respect."

Tarver, who still looks vibrant and healthy after all of these years in the fight racket, said he was first introduced to boxing in 1979 as a “snot-nosed kid.” He seems happy to be where he is in boxing and in life, but he is also weary of having to continually prove the doubters wrong. But whatever the case, Tarver isn't taking Dawson lightly.

"We gonna' do whatever it takes. We gonna' be ready, in great shape and we gonna' take this fight. He's never experienced anything like this, not what I'm bringin' to the table," said the proud Tarver, his voice rising.

"I'm bringing it on the 11th. If they think I'm coming into this fight underestimating him, or will be at anything other than my best, think again. When I'm at my best I'm undefeated, my record proves that."

And Tarver, never at a loss for words, is of course predicting a Hollywood-like ending to what should be a pretty good fight. He also sees himself standing in the winner's circle.

"I feel personally that it will end abruptly - in a devastating knockout," he says.

Just like in the movies.

September 2008


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